The victory Tuesday night of an upstart group of candidates — political newcomers who have never held elected public office — over a party-endorsed slate of Democrats stocked with longtime incumbents can largely be traced back about two years.
That's when the current town council approved a deal that brought California-based Niagara Bottling to town to build a distribution plant. A large group of residents turned out to oppose the agreement and the tax deal the council gave the company.
The core of that group of residents would go on to form the challenge slate, raise money for a campaign and build support in the community.
"It was huge. Their base issue was Niagara," said Mayor Joan Gamble, a member of the badly defeated endorsed slate. "There's absolutely not a doubt in my mind."
Suzette Brown, the challenge slate's top vote-getter agreed that the Niagara project gave them an issue to rally around, but mostly because residents felt the council was not transparent with the public.
"That was the stone that got things rolling and residents lost confidence in the current council," she said.
But there were other issues as well.
Larry Pleasant, a former town councilman and member of the Democratic town committee, who left both in 2011, said the endorsed slate's defeat signals the end of a regime of politicos.
"They ran the town committee for 35 years and didn't care about what people said. It was just about doing things their way," Pleasant said. "Hopefully it's a wake-up call to the leadership in the Democratic town committee. It's time for a change."
Pleasant said the endorsed slate also played into its own demise by being outworked and outhustled, by the challenge slate, which spent two months canvassing neighborhoods — even going into homes for sit-down discussions of residents' concerns.
"They presumed they had control and they were wrong," Pleasant said.
Brown said the endorsed candidates underestimated the newcomers and the residents who voted for them in Tuesday's primary.
"They thought they would vote for them again because they had no choice," she said, recalling how residents welcomed the challenge candidates into their homes.
Marc Needelman, co-vice chairman of the Democratic town committee, acknowledged Wednesday that the challenge slate "outworked and outcampaigned" his candidates.
"No question," he said.
But Needelman also believes the current anti-incumbent atmosphere in the state and across the country played a role.
"The climate of discontent with government led to people saying 'We want something different,'" he said. "That's what it came down to."
As for the perception that change is needed in town leadership, Needelman said it's too soon to make that call.
"The dust needs to settle. It's a big change in the political scene in Bloomfield," he said.
Brown agreed. "It's a bunch of newbies, it's a bunch of everyday citizens who have a desire to make their town better," she said.
Newcomers/Challengers Vote Tally:
Jennifer Marshall-Nealy 1,544
Suzette D. Brown 1,539
Kenneth McClary 1,523
David Mann 1,509
Keving Gough 1,494
Rickford Kirton 1,455
Party-endorsed Candidates' Vote Tally:
Sydney Schulman 834
Wayne Hypolite 819
Joan Gamble 742
Derrick Seldon 741
Joseph Washington 739
Kevin Hussain 732